The truth is that some women find expressing to be easy and others just don’t. The mechanics of expressing, being organised, managing the pump, bottles and storage of breast milk all impact on how each individual mother perceives the whole experience.
For some it’s just too much hassle and easier to bottle feed with formula. But for others it’s relatively easy and can be incorporated in all the other things to be achieved in their busy day. If you are looking for some tips for expressing milk these easy steps should help.
The number one factor to remember, which influences the success of breast milk expression is a mother’s attitude. Feeling confident and believing that expressing her breast milk and feeding this to her baby is the best thing she can do will impact on her success. This is the case no matter what volume of milk she obtains.
But I’m Not Making Enough Milk!
Breast milk expression is about the process itself as much as the volume expressed. Even in cases where it is necessary to supplement the baby’s expressed breast milk (EBM) feeds with formula, the fact that their baby is getting “some” breast milk is enough for many mums to keep expressing.
Young babies require less volume per feed, and many mums find that in the early days they are able to express enough to fully meet their baby’s needs. Returning to work and expressing can often influence milk supply, at least in the early weeks. But with regular expression and building confidence, a mother’s supply will generally increase to the level it was. This is helped by continuing to breastfeed when able and regularly expressing when either at work or home.
What Will Happen if I Don’t Express at Work?
This really depends on your milk supply and how often you normally need to breastfeed your baby. If you have a good or abundant supply, then you may need to express more frequently when at work than a woman who does not.
- You could become engorged and feel very uncomfortable. This will almost certainly affect your concentration for work.
- You could leak milk onto your clothes and consequently, feel embarrassed.
- If you make a habit of not expressing, this is likely to affect your supply because of the supply = demand principle of lactation. An average eight hour work day + travel time is a lengthy period for a lactating mother not to empty her breasts.
- When you are not with your baby to breastfeed, they will need to have either EBM or formula (if aged less than 12 months).
This will depend on how old your baby is, how many feeds you need to express and the amount of time you and your baby are apart and not able to breastfeed.
- Have a picture of the baby or an item of their clothing with you when you express. The visual and sensory stimulus of your baby will help you to “let down” and your milk to flow.
- If you find you don’t get much milk out when expressing, then have a short break and try again.
- Aim for regular expression breaks when at work – every 4-5 hours works well for many women.
- If your supply is low or your baby aged less than six months, you may need to express more frequently.
- If your baby is less than six months of age and you are doing an eight hour day at work + travel time, you will need to express at least once and probably twice as your baby will need two EBM bottles in your absence.
- If your baby is aged between 6-12 months, you may find you only need to express once during your work day.
- Try to breastfeed your baby just before you leave for work and give them another breastfeed (as soon as possible) when you’re back together. This will help with both your supply and emotional connection.
- Some women experience multiple “let downs” when expressing. If you do, use these as an opportunity to obtain as much milk as you can.
Great Tips to Help with Expressing Success
- Some women find that if they hand express first and then use the pump, their flow of milk is better.
- Consciously try to relax, using whatever method suits you. Try some deep breathing, listening to music (headphones may be useful if you are at work), having a warm drink or something to eat.
- Aim to express in a quiet, warm, relaxing area, away from distractions.
- Put a sign up on the door letting other staff know you want some privacy.
- Have an insulated bag with you when expressing so you can place the bottle of EBM in it straightaway before storing in the fridge. This means your bottles of EBM aren’t on show for all to see.
- A warm cloth placed on the breast can help with the flow of milk and relaxation.
- If you are expressing at home, you could express in the place you usually sit to feed.
- Be organised. When you sit down to express have the sterilised pump all set up and ready to go. Interrupting expression sessions can impact on the “let-down” response and the flow of milk. Have a drink of cold water/tea/coffee and if you have a toddler, organise them with food, drinks and toys.
- You may find you obtain more milk from one breast than the other. This is normal so don’t be concerned.
- Some days you may express more than others.
- Expressing takes time. Washing and sterilising the pump, feeding equipment and bottles adds hours to an already busy day. You will need to be very organised and efficient to make it work.
- Some mothers find the combination of breastfeeding + expressing +/or preparing formula is too taxing and not sustainable long term.
- Don’t expect the volume of milk you express to be an indicator of how much milk your baby gets when they breastfeed. Your baby’s sucking is a far better way of obtaining breast milk than expressing.
- It can be hard to “let down” when in work mode. Take your time, don’t rush and know that what you are doing is valuable and worthwhile.
Before You Return to Work
- Speak with your line manager and/or Human Resource Management (HRM) so you are both very familiar with your rights and responsibilities. Check the Australian Human Rights Commission
- Know your lactation entitlements; how often you can have a break, for how much time and how this will impact on your regular meal breaks.
- Don’t assume you will have difficulties expressing at work. Many workplaces and management styles are supportive of breastfeeding, even if they’ve not had a chance to demonstrate this previously.
- Be very clear in your own mind about where you can go at work to express.
- Satisfy yourself that where you will express is private, has a lock on the door and is clean and safe.
- Be very familiar with how you will store your milk at work and then transport it home.
- Have your pump, bottles and all expression equipment organised each day.
- If you wear a dress to work, then think about the practicalities of accessing your breasts for expressing. A buttoned up blouse or top with pants/skirt is better.
- Pack an “expressing” bag which includes a jumper/shawl for keeping warm when your chest is exposed, a magazine and a photo of your baby.
- Work out where you will rinse the pump and/or sterilise it at work so it’s ready for use again.
- Establish which fridge you’ll be using at work to store your milk. Think about labelling this just to avoid any confusion with work colleagues!
- If you need to use freezer bricks, is there a freezer section in the fridge at work?
- Practice expressing at home a few times first so you are familiar with it. Developing skills in expressing can take time – find out what works and become familiar with how the pump is assembled and how all the components fit into each other.
- Organise an “emergency” supply of breast pads, sterilised bottles and covers and pump attachments in case you need them.
- Make sure your baby will accept a bottle with EBM. Don’t leave doing this until the day before you return to work. Happy breastfeeding babies can take a while to become accoustomed to sucking on a bottle and teat.